Political action in the 21st century involves engaging through social media and the online world. No longer just an optional, alternative way of reaching out to certain demographics, social media reaches across age groups and income levels and is used by individuals, businesses, news media, and community organizations. For the ARPA grassroots, improving social media outreach skills is one part of becoming more effective and engaged activists. On Wednesday morning, one of the three breakout sessions available to delegates was hosted by Ada Slivinski, a communications consultant and social media expert.
According to Slivinski, social media is an extension of who we are in real life. When this is forgotten, the result looks a lot like the comments section of online newspapers – nasty, rude, and ignorant, hidden behind a veil of anonymity. We should talk on social media as we would in real life, with decorum and reasonable debate. What we present on Facebook or Twitter is intended to paint us in the best possible light, yet it is important to remain authentic and real to our audience.
For grassroots activists and political organizations, it is important to learn to balance the promotion of a particular message with other kinds of content, such as educational or informative posts. Slivinski warned the audience of how easy it is to spend too much effort on self-promotion, be labeled as a promotional organization by Facebook’s algorithms, and end up burying your message in hidden depths of your followers’ news feeds. To avoid this, Slivinski recommended the 80/20 rule, where content is balanced with 80% informational material and 20% promotional content.
Each one of the main social media platforms has unique strengths and weaknesses for the political activist. Slivinski stated that your Facebook should be focused on who you know (or used to know) and your core group of friends and fellow activists; it’s a prime platform for getting mobilized, communicating with groups, and sharing information. Instagram’s value is as a visual medium, showing followers what is happening at the moment. Slivinski relayed that pictures depicting what goes on “behind the scenes” at various events that your followers are interested in are often the most successful Instagram posts. Twitter, the third major platform, is best for connecting with people that you want to know, such as journalists, politicians, and other organizations. Activists can tweet stories, facts, and pictures at journalists or politicians to try and catch their attention and help certain issues gain traction in the political arena. Twitter is the most important platform for the political activist, according to Slivinski, and she encouraged delegates to look at ways to improve their communications and their presence on the network.
Slivinski concluded by challenging a belief held widely among social media activists; that is, the idea that the best posts are the ones that get the most shares and retweets. The metric for success, she asserted, was not how easy it was for your followers to share your post, but how thought-provoking they found it. The best posts are the ones that make people uncomfortable. As Christians engaging an oft-hostile culture, this hits home – ARPA’s message is not an easy one, but it is the truth.
A livestream of Ada’s presentation can be watched here.